The Labour Party’s big beasts have hardly been out in force in recent times, with the Jeremy Corbyn era sending some running for cover, and others simply withdrawing from the political landscape.
There are also those who believe the party leader has been endorsed, and there is no more to be achieved by opposing him. Instead, they simply hope that it will not last long.
Alistair Darling gave that impression when he said yesterday: “My view is we need to get on, we’re fighting a general election campaign, you know leaders come and go.”
The former chancellor, who led the Better Together campaign to victory in the Scottish independence referendum, had at least turned out to back his party on the election campaign trail yesterday. But significantly, he did not talk about Labour winning this election. Instead, he spoke of the need for an “opposition that makes a difference”. We can safely assume that this wasn’t a concern about the effectiveness of the Conservatives.
Put bluntly, Mr Darling’s remark says that Labour will not win on 8 June. And while that may be a widespread view across the UK reflected by opinion polls which give the Conservatives a lead of up to 15 points, it is startling to hear a senior Labour name talk in such terms yesterday, at a time when the Prime Minister had yet to visit the Queen to complete the formalities of dissolution, and when there are over five weeks to go until the election takes place.
To be fair to Mr Darling, his former prime minister had set the tone the day previously, when Tony Blair stated that Theresa May would be Prime Minister on 9 June.
We can admire politicians being realistic, but this will have made the next five weeks harder for those who are fighting Labour’s corner. If such senior figures are talking about coming second, then an activist on the doorstep faces a tough task convincing anyone that a vote for Labour counts. It’s also a blow to the morale of those campaigning for Labour this week ahead of Thursday’s local elections.
If the UK is to have an opposition that makes a difference, it would help if the main opposition party had not conceded defeat before the battle had begun. Even if Mr Blair and Mr Darling don’t believe their party can win, their thoughts would be better expressed in private, even if that is just to give their party any chance of being the best of the rest.